Howard Fast

Tito and His People

Tito and Mikhailovich

Nothing came of their first meeting. For hours Tito argued, and to all his arguments Mikhailovich gave the same reply: "I will not collaborate with Communists. I will not collaborate with Croats, who are the enemies of Serbia."

Actually there had been a fifth column recruited out of the lowest elements of Croatia (the Ustachi), but these were the sworn enemies of the Croatian Partisans, Tito argued. He pointed out that in the Partisan ranks were Serbs and Slovenes as well as Croatians, men and women from every Yugoslav province. He pointed out that the Partisans desired only one thing, the liberation of their nation. He pointed out the bitter and horrible consequences of civil war; but Mikhailovich remained adamant, and the first meeting failed.

In that same month there was a second meeting between Tito and Mikhailovich, and this time Mikhailovich agreed to cease fighting the Partisans — for a price. It is difficult to say whether Mikhailovich came to this meeting determined to betray Tito, or whether he simply took advantage of the opportunity later.

However, here are the circumstances. By now, late in October, Marshal Tito had a powerful striking force, not too large as yet, not yet ready to fight a pitched battle with strong German forces and come out on top, but powerful and well armed.

His headquarters were at Uzice, a town in central Yugoslavia between Serbia and Bosnia. There he had assembled a store of rifles and machine guns; he had some captured armored cars, a few tanks and some artillery. In the town's bank vault he had established a crude factory for reloading cartridges and manufacturing certain small-arm ammunition.


Mikhailovich Betrays Yugoslavia


It was in Uzice that he met Mikhailovich the second time. Mikhailovich knew that the Partisans had captured large stores of arms. His own men were falling away; his new recruits were half armed. So he made this proposal:

He would cease hostilities against Tito. In exchange, Tito would supply him with five thousand rifles, half a million cartridges, and a large amount of money. When Tito heard this proposal he bit his lips and nodded. If it had to be this way, so be it.

Five thousand rifles to Mikhailovich would mean five thousand less for the Partisans, but unity was what they stood for. If five thousand rifles and a money bribe would buy unity, then Mikhailovich should have them.

Mikhailovich's men carried away the rifles and ammunition, and then, a few weeks later, returned with them — only this time to attack Tito's Uzice headquarters. It was as treacherous, as grotesque a betrayal as any the Axis had perpetrated; it was a preview of what Mikhailovich was to attempt later.

Perhaps Tito had expected the betrayal. At any rate, the Partisans beat off the Chetnik attack and late in November, 1941, Tito once again proposed to Mikhailovich that they meet and discuss co-operation instead of civil war. Perhaps with his tongue still in his cheek, Mikhailovich agreed. Tito sent Colonel Dedier to Chachak to meet Mikhailovich and reason with him. While these discussions were going on, Tito received word that a large German force, four full divisions, was advancing on Uzice.

Tito telephoned Dedier and impressed on him that their only hope of withstanding the German attack was to effect an amalgamation of Mikhailovich and Partisan forces.

When Mikhailovich heard this, he shrugged and shook his head. Bluntly, he said that it was no use — his force was hardly able to resist the German attack.

"But the Partisans will fight," Dedier pleaded. "Don't you understand?"

"I understand that it would be folly to resist the Germans," Mikhailovich smiled.

Fortunately this piece of business came to light through an English officer (an officer attached to Mikhailovich by the British) who happened to be at Tito's headquarters when the German attack started. It began a chain of circumstances which resulted in the British transferring the bulk of their support from Mikhailovich to Tito's Partisans.

That day the Stukas struck at Uzice. Wave after wave peeled off over the little town and grimly shattered building after building into rubble. With a grim face, Tito watched his headquarters being destroyed, his men being killed as they fired at the Stukas with rifles and pistols. A little later German tanks were hurled into the devastation the Stukas had left. Tito was one of the last to leave the town, the British officer with him.

Late that night a battered, weary group of Partisan officers gathered at Zlatibar, some twenty miles distant from shattered Uzice. Tito and the British officer were the last to arrive. Their car had been strafed and destroyed. They had lain in a ditch and then travailed almost all of the twenty miles on foot.

When Tito's discouraged officers asked him, "What now?" he answered: "We start again. They will give us no peace now. They understand that we are an army at last."

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